After a lengthy hospital stay last fall, Vivian Cameron feared she’d never again have the strength to walk.
Who could blame her for doubting? The retired medical office worker from Grand Haven, Michigan, had been so severely ill with sepsis, she ended up on life support.
One October night, things looked so grim that her family called in their priest to administer last rites.
But Cameron, 87, rallied.
“It wasn’t my time to go, that’s how I feel,” she said.
In early November, doctors released her from Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital to a local rehabilitation facility, where she continued her recovery and worked to rebuild her stamina.
Though she made progress in the physical therapy program, she couldn’t quite find the strength to stand.
The rehab staff thought things were as good as they’d get for her, so they sent her home in a wheelchair.
That’s when Cameron met two women from the Spectrum Health At Home Visiting Nurse Association: Cindy Mushroe, a physical therapist, and Karmen Wilson, an occupational therapist.
The two were part of a team that also provided home health and in-home nursing services as Cameron made the transition back to living at home.
Those first days home proved tricky. Cameron needed help transferring from bed to wheelchair, then to recliner, and then back again.
Nervousness plagued her. It had been 10 weeks since she’d taken any steps.
“I always had that fear I was going to fall,” she said.
But from their first visit, Mushroe and Wilson suspected Cameron had the strength to get back on her feet. They weren’t about to let fear hold her back.
As she heard Wilson and Mushroe’s words of encouragement, a switch seemed to flip in Cameron’s mind.
She went from saying, “I can’t do it,” to believing that she could—and would.
“I just felt secure with Cindy,” Cameron explained. “She put that (gait) belt on me and she said, ‘We’re going to do it, you’re going to walk.’
“And we got to standing up and holding onto (my walker), and then she would … see if I could balance,” she said. “And then I felt secure. I knew I wasn’t going to fall.”
This all happened in her first week home.
From then on, she improved quickly.
Said Mushroe: “She progressed to being able to get herself in and out of bed, on and off the raised toilet seat, in and out of the lift chair, and on and off a high bench out on the porch.”
The key: her willingness to work.
“Despite being fearful and anxious, she was an extremely hard worker,” Mushroe said. “I would tell her, ‘Fear is nothing to be ashamed of if you’re willing to try to work through it.’ And she was.
“She came home thinking that she wasn’t going to be able to get out of that wheelchair,” she said. “But … she worked through her fear and got there.”
What Cameron did between visits made the biggest difference.
“Vivian really put forth the effort,” Wilson said. “If all of our patients put forth the amount of effort that Vivian did, they would all have that same outcome.”
Apart from her grit and determination, Cameron had something else working in her favor: strong family support.
Especially from her granddaughter, Emily Olivier.
When Cameron returned from the rehab facility, Olivier, 22, moved in with her to become her primary caregiver. She served as her grandmother’s coach and cheerleader.
“Emily was really kind of the driving force,” Wilson said. “She was very encouraging to her grandma, and instead of enabling her and just doing things for her, after we initiated her care, Emily felt OK saying, ‘No, Grandma, you need to do it yourself.’”
After just six weeks of working with Wilson and Mushroe, Cameron had achieved all her goals.
She was ready to end therapy and home care services.
“She still needed family assistance, but (had) the level of independence which allowed her to function in her home and allowed her granddaughter to return back to work,” Mushroe said.
Cameron still does the exercises Wilson taught her. In fact, she may now be in better shape than before she landed in the hospital.
“I wanted to get back to at least where I was before, and I’m at that point right now,” Cameron said. “In fact, I think I’m a little stronger than I was before.”
“She’s trying to get her ‘beach bod’ for summer,” Olivier joked.
Young at heart
Cameron lives across the street from Grand Haven State Park, in a small home she and her late husband bought 50 years ago. Traffic in the summer is heavy, both on the road and in the channel that carries boats out to Lake Michigan.
That level of commotion would bother some people her age. But not her.
“I really enjoy it,” Cameron said. “I enjoy people. I sit on that bench out there and watch.”
Lately, she’s been thinking about grabbing her walker and heading out to join the crowds on the boardwalk.
“I haven’t tried it yet,” she said. “But now that summer’s here, I could possibly get across the street.”